July of 2012 was not a fun month for A.J. Allmendinger and his wide Dr. Lynne Kushnirenko (Allmendinger). At the time, Allmendinger was running the No. 22 Dodge for Penske Racing, a dream come true for the former open-wheel racer. Being suspended for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy certainly didn’t help his chance of winning at Penske Racing.
Until he was reinstated in mid-September, Allmendinger participated in NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program which he claims to have helped him out a lot. Though Penske Racing released him for obvious reasons, Allmendinger was able to get a week-to-week ride with Phoenix Racing once the team and former Penske Racing driver, Kurt Busch, parted ways.
2013 started off rather well for Allmendinger. He partnered with Michael Shank Racing for the Rolex 24 at Daytona once again looking to repeat their victory from last year. Allmendinger drove the wheels off the car coming back from a few laps down to finish inside of the top-five. Even with all of the drama which he dealt with since that brutal day in Daytona in July, just hours before a race, Allmendinger has made it clear that he wants to stay in the sport.
Phoenix Racing is giving him another chance to prove himself in 2013. After giving a helping hand to Busch, they’re doing the same for Allmendinger who desperately needs to run consistent if he wants to stay in NASCAR for the long-term. Allmendinger will be in the No. 51 car for four of the first six races with the exception of Daytona and Las Vegas where Regan Smith and Austin Dillon will pilot the car respectively. He will likely run more races for the team if sponsorship is found which may be difficult considering he has that suspension on his record now.
The most stunning part of this whole fiasco is that Roger Penske hasn’t given up on Allmendinger. On February 18 and 19, Allmendinger will have the opportunity to race an open-wheel car for the first time since he competed in the Champ Car Series in 2006 where he had five wins and finished just behind Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson for the championship before making the move to NASCAR. Penske announced that he will enabled Allmendinger to test one of his IZOD INDY Car Series vehicles at the Sebring International Speedway with a planned debut to be on April 7 at the Barber Motorsports Park.
Penske Racing is hoping to run Allmendinger in the race at Long Beach as well in order to prepare for the Indianapolis 500. The opportunity is gigantic for Allmendinger. If he impresses Penske, he could regain some sponsorship to return to Penske Racing in NASCAR in either the Nationwide or Sprint Cup Series. However, if Allmendinger does exceptionally well in an INDY car, expect him to likely stay over there with some occasional races in NASCAR. For Roger Penske to give a man that almost ruined his career another chance at stardom is almost unthinkable, but that’s what racing is all about, doing the unthinkable.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.